I am from a typically conservative Punjabi family in Delhi. And hence, growing up queer was a challenge for me in such a family set up. With little interest in so-called ‘manly’ things like playing cricket, flying kites, riding bikes, or having a teenage infatuation for girls, I have always been a misfit. However, I have tried hard to be extra careful about my effeminate gestures, and to look as ‘masculine’ as possible – so that I could fit in.
On most Sundays, boys in my colony would get together over a cricket match or something, and I had the least interest in getting involved in such ‘bro-bonding’ activities. Though, I would sometimes join them to somehow fit in. During my childhood, I was never able to understand why I was not ‘fitting in’, and why my interests were so diverse.
In my case, my queerness was often visible, owing to my ‘feminine’ gestures, interests and likings, growing up with cousins in a conservative atmosphere wasn’t easy either. Visibly or invisibly, there was always discrimination. For instance, few of my male cousins would very subtly try to avoid hanging out with me, except on family occasions or weddings. One of my oldest cousins till date avoids adding me as a ‘friend’ on social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, etc. Although this isn’t the case with all my other cousins, I could sense that even they have their apprehensions.
I have always got along with girls more easily than boys (though it isn’t necessarily a ‘proof’ of my being gay). But somehow, to avoid being looked at as different, I would make every effort to be friendly with guys too.
I was a regular academic topper at school and while that gave me a sense of pride in myself, it also saved me from self-appointed and often peer-appointed disgrace of being ‘different’ and effeminate.
Though my parents have never made me feel short of anything and have mostly supported me in all my endeavours, I have had the toughest experiences with my peers – from ostracism and bullying at school during my teenage years, to the direct or indirect verbal abuse at college. People mocking me was something I had almost accustomed myself to, which made me feel a sense of low self-esteem and a lack of confidence.
I still remember a guy from school who would often bully me whenever he crossed paths with me, saying “Chakka Chakka”, which was like a huge emotional wound for me. I would often cry, as to why I was born like this. I was always afraid to share this with my parents at that time, out of shame. But, today, I have realised, it is the bully who should be shamed for such disgraceful acts and not the one being bullied. One must stand always up for being who they are and never be silent.
I still remember I had to do my summer internship at one of my maternal uncle’s office through his reference. And guess what – I was told by my uncle that he would get me a certificate of internship without me having to visit his office for the entire period. Maybe, it was due to his conservative and homophobic instincts or the idea that my ‘feminine’ self would bring him shame. I really don’t know.
Even at college, where I was the topper, I was bullied mostly by boys (and sometimes girls too) with jibes like “Dekho aa raha hai future ka Karan Johar (Look, Karan Johar of the future is coming) ” etc., which again, I would hide from my parents out of shame and fear of how they would treat me.
I have been through years of inner conflict about my sexuality and the thought of being rejected by society pushed me to chronic depression. Thanks to the wonderful class I attended at the Art of Living meditation camp and the breathing technique called Sudarshan Kriya, I gradually came out of my depression. The best thing I learnt in the course was to accept people and situations as they are and to take relevant action.
With my self-acceptance also came self-liberation. Fortunately, today I am in a very progressive workplace with hardly any instances of homophobia. Ostracism in society can affect your social skills and mental health in a major way. We need a society that is based on the ideals of equality and justice and not mere sympathy.
Homophobia is largely due to lack of awareness. For example, I had always seen a boy and a girl romancing in Bollywood movies and never a girl-girl or boy-boy relationship during my growing up years in the late 90s. Today, however, things are changing.
‘Dostana‘ was my first queer movie. I still love the Punjabi mother in the movie and the song ‘Maa Daa Laadla Bigad Gaya’, though the film has its own set of problems in terms of how it exploits gay stereotypes. The concept of same-sex attraction was something I was completely unaware of in my teenage years, and I buried it deep in my heart as a secret.
I would have never chosen to be gay in a country like India with so much stigma and prejudice attached to homosexuality, thanks to the British colonial laws. Homosexuality is not a choice. Ancient Indian and Hindu philosophical texts have depicted queerness with sensitivity and openness. Even today, we worship Shiva as Ardhanareeshwara.
It is a misconception that only effeminate guys or tomboyish girls are gays and lesbians. I am a firm believer that lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgender people aren’t a ‘minuscule minority‘ as the honourable Supreme Court considers it to be. I would just say, get rid of the stigma and prejudice associated with homosexuality, give us social and legal acceptance, and you will be surprised to know that so many conventionally masculine men are gay, and the most beautifully feminine women are lesbians too. They just don’t come out due to the fear of homophobic discrimination and hate.
You never know your own spouse or partner may be homosexual – carefully guarding the secret of their sexual orientation to avoid any social ostracism. So many homosexual people settle for heterosexual marriages because of societal pressure.
Ironically, finding gay sex in India is easier than finding love. As sex needs temporary privacy, whereas love seeks social and legal acceptance. Recently, I found a small town boy on social media who wasn’t looking for any commitment. We met a few times at a happening place in Central Delhi for casual conversations. He would always say, “I like you but I can’t love you”. Thanks to the deeply conservative and patriarchal set up at his hometown, his parents would soon get him married to a woman, and he would hardly have any say in it, as he is deep in the closet.
I consider myself a minority amongst the minorities, as, for me, it is either lifetime commitment or nothing at all.
I aspire for a more open and accepting society, where people can be who they are without any social or legal ramifications. Hopefully, the rainbow will soon shine with its full glory, in Indian society too. This is my wish and hope on the 10th anniversary of the Delhi Queer Pride.
What are your experiences of being queer, and tackling heteronormativity?
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